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Why Departments can Tell You how to Look

Have you ever wondered why Police Departments can regulate how the officers look? I was curious myself and did some research on the topic.  Today, many departments do not allow tattoos to be showing while wearing the short sleeve uniform.  Due to changing times, some departments adopted new regulations because prior military were being singled out with their sleeve tattoos.

A case that is a good starting point would be the one that was ruled by the Supreme Court.  It gave Administrators an abundance of power in how they can create and regulate policy.

The case of Kelley v. Johnson discussed the issue of hair length. The policy in the police department mentioned specific guidelines on how the hair was to be cut, or specifically how long it could be. These policies are in almost every police department.  The argument made was that the department could not create such a policy because it was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court felt differently.  They upheld the constitutionality of the policy and declared, “police administrators should be afforded great deference in enacting regulations governing the appearance and professionalism of officers under their command”. The Supreme Court said that there needed to be a rational connection between a legitimate government objective and policy. The hair policy proved to show that it identified officers to the public while also fostered “esprit de corps”, basically meaning uniformity and unity.

In short, that is why departments can tell you how to cut your hair, what tattoos can be visible, and what kind of piercings different genders can obtain.  This is just some background information.

For new officers, keep this in mind.  Too many people do not look into the issues yet have problems with why departments regulation, making accusations of the reasoning.  Police departments are one of the few jobs left that can tell their employees how to look and act when off duty just as much when on.

I guess its true that no one is really off duty, they are just not wearing the uniform.

Feild Training Period

“Do you even know where you are?” “Pretty sure you crossed state lines!”

If you have been through field training, your FTI, or field training instructor might have said these two phrases, and many more.

For those who do not know, after graduating the academy, a newly sworn in officer spends a certain amount of time with another officer.  The FTI grades them on everything they do from knowing their area to dealing with various calls to service.  This training is critical because the academy gives the knowledge, but the FTI period is when you learn how to actually be a “cop”.

For some, the transition can be challenging.  Every day I put on the uniform, but in the beginning I failed to see what others saw.  I knew who I was and what I stood for, but others just saw another police officer.

When handling calls, it took me a while to see that others actually reacted to my presence.  Civil situations were resolved simply because I was there and I made a suggestion.

On the other side of that, situations were made more complicated because of my presence.  I remember handling one call where a man was having a mental breakdown.  My mere presence made him act more irate.  I do no not walk around thinking I have a badge pinned on, yet that is the learning curve a new rookie has to manage.

I have always been soft-spoken, yet I learned early on that this can not always be the case.  I learned this when responding to a domestic dispute.  I tried to walk in the room and start “handing the situation”, yet no one there wanted me to.  Constantly I was talked over, yelled at, and ignored.  Eventually my FTI gave me a look that suggested I had to control the room, that I was the police.  As police, we don’t always get loud because we want to, but there is some aspect of policing that warrants us to.

That domestic call was the first time I had to prove that I had what it took.  I had to stop the whole situation in an instant and take command.  Did anyone there like me? Probably not.  But sometimes them not liking me is better than a shouting match turn violent.

As a police officer, we don’t always enjoy what we have to do, but going in, I knew that’s what I signed up for.  We are human. We each handle certain calls better than others, and we constantly get better.

 

The Day I Donned my Vest

The first day was surreal.  During the academy they teach you officer safety; they teach you everything that can go wrong; they put you through mock situations using role players, but it is all fake.

Roll call was at 1330 hours, I started off in evenings, working a 12 hr shift.  Of course, not sleeping the night before, I arrived to the station a couple of hours before with the mandatory donuts and coffee.  I mean, you want them to like you right?  I had to find my locker and find the bathroom..fast.

Of course I laid out my shirt the night before, adding all the collar brass, name tag, and sacred badge.  Shoes were perfectly spit shined and hair gelled.

Then I remember donning the vest for the first time.  It was stiff, uncomfortable; felt like it weighed a ton.  I strapped that sucker down so it molded perfectly to my body.  Put on my blouse with the shirt stays at the tightest setting, and then my pants and boots.

Then there is the Sam Brown Belt.  It is supposed to carry most of the gear an officer needs that day; OC spray, check; baton, check; radio, check; glove pouch WITH gloves, check; handcuffs, check; full size pistol, check; extra magazines, check.

Weighing in at least 25 pounds heavier than I was in the morning, I felt lopsided and immobile.  I then sat there and waited until other officers started making their way into the locker room.  Eventually I saw my FTI stroll in ten minutes before roll call, a whole one hour and 50 minutes after I did.  Once he got settled in, I tried to play it cool and ask where to sit….which was the front row, only 4 feet away from the Sgt and Lt.

Roll call was average, I introduced myself, feeling all 28 eyes already judging.  My vest I so eagerly cinched down before was now limiting my breathing and cutting into my abs.  Feeling nervous, I spoke fast and got it over with, sitting down awkwardly.

After roll call was over, there was a meeting with the Sgt and Lt about squad expectations and got the cruiser all ready.  Afterwards, we started patrol.

That day was not too exciting looking back on it now.  It was a typical day, probably even a slow day.  I was showed all the patrol areas, including the station line, the county line, and the state line (even though during this FTI period I crossed all of them without knowing!).  We small talked a little bit but expectations were set that neither of us need to talk just to fill the silence….perfect.

When the midnight squad cleared roll call, we grabbed dinner and headed to the station.  I didn’t have an reports that day because it was a day to get “familiarized” with everything.  We took our meal with some others from the squad, then after I was to read many of the General Orders so that my FTI could check it off in the book.

First day donning my vest was finally over.  I was tired, but excited for the next day.

 

~The next post will encompass the whole FTI period and how I started to feel the switch in mindset of becoming an officer. Enjoy!

Being the First “Cop”

Being the first in many families can be a challenging time for everyone; first to go to college, first to graduate college, first doctor, first engineer.  I was the first “cop”.  The question will come up from investigators and other officers: “Do you come from a law enforcement family?” And when you say no, they are surprised and intrigued.

The question comes up because most people do not wake up one day to become an officer.  They usually have seen the grandfather, or father spend is life serving, and they want to follow suit.

For me, I knew around first year of high school.  My parents wanted me to be a lawyer or accountant, maybe even an engineer.

I came home one day and told them that I wanted to become a police officer.  My parents rejected it at first, but then gave in and let me take classes in high school, believing for sure that this was just a phase.

When I graduated and was looking the Criminal Justice degrees for college, then begged it was just a phase.  Being the first police officer in my family meant that I was breaking the norm.  It was more than just a norm of my life, but also for theirs.

In their planning of having a child and having them be successful if the world, it did not occur to them that their son would be going out everyday wearing a bulletproof vest strapped on tight and a full size pistol on his waist.

At the time, being so wrapped up in my new-found career path, I failed to understand why they had such an issue with it.  I was ready to go out there and help others in traumatic situations and arrest the evil in this world.

My parents saw their son wanting to go out into danger an everyday live life between the COPS show and Law and Order show.  This is not to say that they were not in reality, but simply put they did not know what the reality was.

What helped them a little bit was my dedication in becoming an officer and my studies in college.  When I started telling them what I learned from school, they started to understand that there was more to this whole “cop thing”.

In my last year of school I started applying to jobs.  My family once again tried to convince me otherwise, but it was too late at this point.  After going through two application processes, I was hired 9 months later, receiving a date to start the academy.

I share this story with all of you because those of you who are the first in your family thinking about joining the law enforcement family… don’t give up.  Others will not understand, and may never understand, but if this is what you really want, don’t give in.

ps. just know in the back of your mind your family is always wondering if you are safe out there, let them know

First Post

Hey everyone, this being the first post, I guess I should share with you a little bit about myself.  I chose this time to start my blog because I want to let people know what the inside life is of a newer officer trying to figure out the job and home life. 

I grew up in a small town with no law enforcement in my family. With that said I’ve had a desire to become a police officer since freshman year of high school. I have always had the mentality of becoming a police officer; hard-working, driven, and passionate about helping people. Besides that I’ve also grown accustomed to being fit and healthy.

I went to college for criminal justice and started my masters degree in criminal justice administration. During that time I applied to jobs and was hired by a law enforcement agency.  I put my graduate studies on hold and went through the academy. Now with life happening, it’s a struggle to handle work, school, and family life. 

Being a police officer is definitely a hard career path to get into. I kept my nose clean all through my childhood; some say I was “boring” or not “spontaneous”. What I was doing though, was striving for excellence to become a law enforcement officer. 

For those out there that are trying to become the first police officer in their family it will be tough. They were not understand why you’re trying to do what you’re doing, or what the day to day of a police officer really is: stay tuned for that upcoming post!

The future blog posts will cover my  time in field training, becoming an officer when you are the first in your family, and various other situations that come up.

If you have any questions, feel free to  contact me and maybe that will be the next post!

-M.